10 years of social networking sites and we haven’t learned a thing

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(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—Ten years ago, the majority of Black America was introduced to the world of social networking sites when Blackplanet went online. It was one of the first social networking sites online and the first to be targeted specifically at Black Americans. People met future spouses, business partners, lovers and a whole array of dramatic situations that all began with a quick search for adventure. Now with the explosion of sites like MySpace and Facebook so much of our lives are filtered through the online world that many are forgetting about our basic human nature. Despite what some sensational news stories may tell us, these websites haven’t really changed us that much, they’ve just given everyone another outlet to act crazy, when they would’ve been crazy anyway.

 

The most recent case that comes to mind has been dubbed the “Fighting Facebook” teachers, about two teachers at Rex Middle School in Clayton County, Ga., who got into a fistfight during school hours. Chaka Cobb (I know, I chuckled, too) discovered that she and fellow teacher Ebony Smith were sleeping with the same man, middle school gym teacher Derek Green, after reading the following saucy love letter posted by Smith on Green’s Facebook page: “I am in love with you. I am tired of being your every blue moon [expletive].” All hell broke loose after this, when Cobb who was pregnant with Green’s child took the conflict to the “streets” and attacked Smith during school hours, forcing other teachers to break up the fight.

Apparently I went to the wrong junior high because nothing this exciting ever happened at my school between lunch and math class. This situation is dubbed “The Fighting Facebook” teachers by the press and yet, it really has nothing to do with Facebook. It’s just two silly irresponsible women doing what silly irresponsible people do: make their problems public knowledge.

The problem I see is that while many incredible stories of love, lust and general bad behavior are being associated with MySpace, Facebook and Blackplanet, the truth is that these websites are just an extension of behavior people have always engaged in and now they simply have another way to act the fool. I can speak from personal experience when I say that most of these recent sites are used so differently between age groups that the constant focus on one set of actions by a few just doesn’t make sense. Roughly 50 percent of all teens between 13 and 17 have a social networking webpage of some variety, according to recent studies. And yet, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is actually women over the age of 40 who are joining at the behest of their kids. These aren’t groups of people who are chasing each other down the hallway because someone else is sleeping with their man. And if they are, they would’ve done so whether they were on Facebook or not.

There are a whole host of social behaviors that are being linked to social networking sites that have always been out there. A story in Time Magazine earlier this year focused on how divorce lawyers are beginning to look at Facebook pages for evidence in alimony, infidelity and custody cases. Posting “my marriage is over” and online photos of partying with friends or potential lovers while decrying emotional distress during a custody battle is not going to swing the judge in your favor. Then again, anyone who wants to create their own paparazzi and document their every social action online while going through a touchy divorce probably didn’t need to stay married anyway. The same applies to child molesters and other sexual deviants online. There were perverts before Facebook, they just hung out in local libraries, chat rooms, scout camp or Catholic churches. Just because one child predator contacts a kid through MySpace doesn’t mean the whole site needs to shut down.

Ultimately, we should learn that just like any other piece of technology, the Web is more of a window into what we are than an influence on it. Men and women are still going to do crazy things for and with each other, hidden notes and undergarments will still be found unintentionally and crazy will still happen. We just can’t blame on the online world, because it’s always been this way.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)

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